Woods grinds out opening 69 at Muirfield

By Jay CoffinJuly 18, 2013, 8:43 pm

GULLANE, Scotland – Tiger Woods stood on the first tee Thursday afternoon at Muirfield with a classic look, nattily dressed in black and white, a combo that made him look several years younger.

Woods looked refreshed, appeared confident.

We hadn’t seen him on a golf course in a month, since the final round of the U.S. Open at Merion. It was there where Woods finished in a paltry tie for 33rd place and later we learned a tender elbow would sideline the game’s top draw until this week.

The odds-makers here in unusually warm, sunny Scotland had installed Woods as the tournament favorite, a place Woods has resided for the better part of the last 15 years. It’s a place he’ll likely live for at least the next five.

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With so many expectations on Woods’ broad shoulders – both those of this week and a five-year major winless drought – he took a mighty whack off the first tee and promptly snap hooked the ball so badly that it hit a tree and plunged into a heap of wispy hay.

“It was amazing, when I got over that tee shot,” Woods said. “I was, ‘if I hammer it, this 3-wood is in that bunker. So maybe I should take something off it. Maybe I should hit 5-wood.’ Hence I hit a flip hook left and there she goes.”

The game’s most mentally tough player seemed flummoxed from the start.

At that moment you could sense collective gasps. Social media was atwitter with armchair analysts screaming this isn’t going to be his week. Members of the media shouted similar expressions, knowing Woods’ major victories in the past have been collected mostly after getting off to a solid beginning on Day 1.

Woods’ ball was mired so deeply into the left rough that he took an unplayable lie. He blasted the approach right of the green and skillfully got up and down for bogey.

Many of the aforementioned naysayers suddenly thought Woods would win the tournament again, that it was an omen because he turned a likely double bogey into an unlikely bogey.

Over the next 5 hours at Muirfield – a place that looked in dire need of a drink – Woods looked ready to win and prepared to lose. He did not use his driver once, but found fairways often. He putted beautifully at times, including 10 one-putt greens, and putted terribly twice, once when he blew a 10-foot birdie putt 6 feet past the hole, another when he putted the ball off the back of the 14th green. He made five birdies and three bogeys. He faced double bogey twice, slayed it both times.

The final tally was 2-under 69 which positions Woods into a ninth-place tie. Leader Zach Johnson shot 66 in easier morning conditions.

“It was tough,” Woods said. “I’m very pleased to shoot anything even par or better.”

“Tiger played phenomenally well for his 2 under par,” said Graeme McDowell, Woods’ playing competitor. “Really ground out well, did what he does best.”

That’s right, Woods grinded, something he has done so many times before but hasn’t seemed to do enough recently at majors.

After birdie on the fourth hole, Woods saved par by making a 6-foot putt on the fifth. The next hole he blew his approach over the back of the green and failed to hit his third onto the green. But he got up and down for a good bogey.

Woods missed a 5-footer for birdie on the eighth hole but rattled off birdies on Nos. 10, 11 and 13. An awkward bunker shot from beside the 12th green that ultimately helped save par was perhaps his best shot of the day.

You get the point. This day was a great test for Woods and he passed, something he will have to continue to do for another 54 holes.

Those rewinding back to the 2006 Open at Hoylake and thinking this week will be similar need to erase the notion. Woods scorched the field that year by positioning the ball where he wished. Muirfield may be as firm and fast as that Hoylake track, but here the rough is thicker and the wind changes more drastically from hole to hole. More danger lurks.

“It was so hard to get the ball close, even lag putt and try to get the ball the right speed,” Woods said. “I tried to keep the ball in front of me as best I could, and hole a putt if I could, if I could keep it below the hole.

“It was very difficult.”

But something that Woods seemed to enjoy on a day many others didn’t.

Sure, it’s been awhile since Woods has won a major, but something about this day felt eerily familiar.

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 17, 2018, 3:00 pm

Tiger Woods teed off at 12:15PM ET alongside Justin Rose for Round 3 of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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Fowler among 5 to skip WGC-Match Play

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 2:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five of the top 64 players in the world will skip next week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Brooks Koepka and Adam Scott all will miss the second WGC event of the year, held next week at Austin Country Club.

As a result, the last man into the field is world No. 69 Luke List. Kevin Na, Charles Howell III, Joost Luiten and Keegan Bradley also got into the field.

Julian Suri and Bill Haas are the first two alternates, if anyone else withdraws from the round-robin-style match-play event.

This is the second year in a row that Rose, Fowler, Stenson and Scott will not play in Austin. Koepka reached the quarterfinals each of the past two years, but he is still recovering from a wrist injury.

The final seeding for the event will be determined after this week’s tournaments. The bracket show is at 7:30 p.m. Monday, live on Golf Channel.

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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.